Monday 16 August 2010

the Redbridge Sky Ride experience

Making the point that cycling is for ordinary, normal people…

I went on yesterday’s Redbridge Sky Ride, along with some 5,000 other people, rather less than the original estimate of 11,000.

We encourage everyone to wear a helmet, it said on the website. Quite right too. Roads filled with nothing but cyclists are obviously highly dangerous places.

My impression of the ride was that for those participating it was a great success. But not necessarily for spectators. I overheard the jolly cycling jester greet a woman standing by her front door and ask if she was having a good day. ‘NO I AM NOT!’ she angrily retorted. It wasn't his amplified music she was objecting to (which was no worse than that which thumps out from any passing BMW or boy racer) but the fact that she couldn't use her car. The Sky Ride roads were closed to traffic between 9 am - 5 pm and residents on affected streets were not allowed the chance to vote on this shocking proposal. This is why in Redbridge SKY RIDE is infamous

The majority of those cycling were on shiny mountain bikes which looked like they spent the rest of the year in a garden shed. There were lots of families, lots of very small children. A broad slice of the community. A bit like a scene from Denmark or the Netherlands – apart from all the yellow bibs, helmets and mountain bikes.

What Sky Rides demonstrate is that there is a great appetite for cycling on traffic-free routes. Unfortunately the logic of their success is not applied to transport planning. British cyclists are still expected to cycle on roads with motor traffic and all the literature available at Sky Ride was about learning how to adjust to this state of affairs. Me, I shall never again cycle on the Redbridge Sky Ride route. Unless, of course, there’s another Sky Ride. I wouldn’t want to cycle the route sharing it with motor vehicles. Too unsafe and unpleasant.

Bob Davis has this to say about Sky Rides:

Of other initiatives, the mass participation Skyrides aim to get 1 million more cyclists over a five year period – but that is for the 10 cities in which they take pace over 5 years, and with cycling once a month being the measure of a new cyclist. Translated into London statistics, that means Skyrides are aiming at about an extra 5,000 daily cyclists, or a 2% increase, over 5 years. However, despite a great deal of organisation associated with Skyrides, there has been no follow-up monitoring to assess whether participants increase their regular cycling to achieve even this very modest target.

Redbridge invested in this first local Sky Ride but it is not a cycling-friendly or walking-friendly borough. On the contrary, like Waltham Forest, the London borough of Redbridge is going backwards, and promoting MORE car dependency, not less. More on this tomorrow.

(Below) Sky Ride signing and advice is magnificently comprehensive.

(Below) Marshalls with megaphones were on hand to shout “narrow road!” to help blind cyclists negotiate this hazardous section of the route, which is, er, about the same width as a crap Waltham Forest cycle lane on a major ‘A’ road.

(Below) After two gruelling miles there was a rest-stop with free drinks, toilets and HGV enlightenment.

(Below) Cycling-friendly road haulage contractors Keltbray provide the opportunity for cyclists to learn about how lorry drivers can’t see them in the zone marked out on the grass. Keltbray? Hang on, isn’t that the firm… No, I’m saying nothing. Sky Ride is an upbeat affair and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with education.

Safe cycling for families:

(Below) The war on the motorist. Drivers make the shocking discovery that their route is blocked by cyclists and that they have to turn round, go back the way they've come, and find some other way of getting to their destination.

(Below) Journey’s end. A woman with a PA system at her command shouts her congratulations at your achievement in cycling a gruelling four miles (or eight miles if you started here instead of the High Street in Barkingside and did the complete circuit).

After that, a carnival of freebies including an environmentally-friendly ballpoint pen and a CTC goody bag. Sullen ingrate that I am, I shall be sneering about the contents of the latter gift in a future blog post. The Sky Ride high viz bib will, however, come in useful when cycling home from Critical Mass on a dark winter’s evening.